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Bill Gates Says Covid-19 Accelerated Digital Financial Revolution

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At the ongoing annual Singapore FinTech Festival x Singapore Week of Innovation & TeCHnology (SFF x SWITCH), Microsoft founder Bill Gates has observed that the Covid-19 pandemic has been instrumental in supercharging the digital revolution.

Gates said this situation is disrupting and presents regulators with an opportunity to narrow financial inequities in their countries.

“Digital things overall, whether it’s remote learning, or telemedicine, or digital finance, were greatly advanced. So even though the pandemic has been terrible, it has pushed for some of these innovations,” Bill Gates said.

He observed that, “In this area (of) digital financial inclusion, it’s gotten the governments to say, wow, we really need to fix this.”

He said the said the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is working toward enabling two-thirds of the world to gain financial access within the next 10 years.

Bill Gates cited World Bank data showing the disparity in financial access across the world – as at 2017, 94 per cent of adults in high-income countries had an account either with a bank, financial institution or mobile-money service provider. This proportion fell to 35% in low-income countries.

Countries like India and Kenya have in recent years put in place technologies to improve digital financial inclusion, the billionaire said.

His foundation supports India’s nationwide open-source identity platform MOSIP (Modular Open Source Identity Platform), which serves as the backbone for effective delivery of public and private services.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, this platform enabled authorities to channel financial help digitally to millions who were locked down in their villages.

Central banks and financial institutions are key to facilitating financial inclusion in a digital age, Gates noted.

The foundation’s work involves getting central banks comfortable with these new approaches, when they see the success and that the open-source toolkit has worked to track down mistakes and make the systems reliable, he said.

And in some ways, they may find these approaches better than cash, as central banks “can go back and audit what’s going on”, Gates added. “We think over the next five years most of the central banks will see it’s okay to do this, because the building blocks are very accessible and there is almost a straightforward way that they can get their citizens all connected up.”

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Kagame Calls For Global Digital Cooperation

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President Paul Kagame has called for digital cooperation to allow efforts of closing the gap in the adoption and use of affordable devices and services in accessible content and in digital literacy.

And the cooperation “needs to go beyond access to broadband,” he said.

The President, who also doubles as the Broadband Commission Chair, was speaking at the 2021 Annual Fall Meeting of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.

Kagame also acknowledged the value in in multi-stakeholder platforms that complement the work of the Broadband Commission, such as the Edison Alliance.

“Harmonizing these initiatives would create useful synergies,” the President said, adding that, “the strength of the Broadband Commission lies in the diversity of the perspectives that our Commissioners bring to the table.”

During the meeting, new Commissioners participating for the first time were recognized. They include;

Hon. Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, Her Excellency Mercedes Araoz, former Vice President and Prime Minister of Peru, Ambassador Courtnay Rattray, UN High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Countries and Small Island Developing States, Majed Sultan Al-Mesmar, Director General of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority, United Arab Emirates and Rumman Chowdry, CEO of Parity .io.

Some special guests are also attending the meeting. There is  Prof.  Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, and, by video, Abdulla Shahid, President of the United Nations General Assembly.

Working Groups presented reports that are one of the tools for debating various ideas and options to fulfill the Commission’s mandate.

In attendance also is Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO, Houlin Zhao, the Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union as well as the Broadband Commission’s Co-Chair Carlos Slim who also highlighted the ongoing need for digital cooperation.

“To achieve our universal connectivity goal, we need to work together. We need to build a digital future that is inclusive, affordable, safe, sustainable, and meaningful and people centered. We need to support infrastructure and to deal with affordability and relevant content to ensure usage,” Carlos Slim said. “For that to happen, it requires concerted efforts.”

Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO and Broadband Commission Co-Vice Chair echoed the same, saying, ‘’A major finding from the data collected by our Commission is that the absence of digital skills remains the largest barrier to internet use.’’

‘’Digital education must therefore be as much about gaining skills as about developing the ability to think critically in order to master the technical aspects and be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood,’’ she concluded.

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Olympus Attacked By BlackMatter Ransomware

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Olympus said in a brief statement Sunday that it is “currently investigating a potential cybersecurity incident” affecting its European, Middle East and Africa computer network.

“Upon detection of suspicious activity, we immediately mobilized a specialized response team including forensics experts, and we are currently working with the highest priority to resolve this issue. As part of the investigation, we have suspended data transfers in the affected systems and have informed the relevant external partners,” the statement said.

But according to a person with knowledge of the incident, Olympus is recovering from a ransomware attack that began in the early morning of September 8. The person shared details of the incident prior to Olympus acknowledging the incident on Sunday.

A ransom note left behind on infected computers claimed to be from the BlackMatter ransomware group. “Your network is encrypted, and not currently operational,” it reads.

“If you pay, we will provide you the programs for decryption.” The ransom note also included a web address to a site accessible only through the Tor Browser that’s known to be used by BlackMatter to communicate with its victims.

Brett Callow, a ransomware expert and threat analyst at Emsisoft, told TechCrunch that the site in the ransom note is associated with the BlackMatter group.

BlackMatter is a ransomware-as-a-service group that was founded as a successor to several ransomware groups, including DarkSide, which recently bounced from the criminal world after the high-profile ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, and REvil, which went silent for months after the Kaseya attack flooded hundreds of companies with ransomware. Both attacks caught the attention of the U.S. government, which promised to take action if critical infrastructure was hit again.

Groups like BlackMatter rent access to their infrastructure, which affiliates use to launch attacks, while BlackMatter takes a cut of whatever ransoms are paid. Emsisoft has also found technical links and code overlaps between Darkside and BlackMatter.

Since the group emerged in June, Emsisoft has recorded more than 40 ransomware attacks attributed to BlackMatter, but that the total number of victims is likely to be significantly higher.

Ransomware groups like BlackMatter typically steal data from a company’s network before encrypting it, and later threaten to publish the files online if the ransom to decrypt the files is not paid. Another site associated with BlackMatter, which the group uses to publicize its victims and touts stolen data, did not have an entry for Olympus at the time of publication.

Japan-headquartered Olympus manufactures optical and digital reprography technology for the medical and life sciences industries. Until recently, the company built digital cameras and other electronics until it sold its struggling camera division in January.

Olympus said it was “currently working to determine the extent of the issue and will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available.”

Christian Pott, a spokesperson for Olympus, did not respond to emails and text messages requesting comment.

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WhatsApp Fined US$267M For Breaching EU Privacy Law

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Facebook-owned WhatsApp has been fined €225 million (US$267 million) for breaking the European Union’s data privacy rules.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) announced the decision in an 89-page summary (PDF), noting that WhatsApp did not properly inform EU citizens how it handles their personal data, including how it shares that information with its parent company.

WhatsApp has been ordered to make updates to its already lengthy privacy policy and change how it notifies users about sharing their data.

This will bring it into compliance with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which governs how tech companies gather and use data in the EU.

GDPR came into effect in May of 2018, and WhatsApp was one of the first companies to be hit with privacy lawsuits under the regulation.

A WhatsApp spokesperson said in an email to The Verge that the company will appeal the decision.

“WhatsApp is committed to providing a secure and private service. We have worked to ensure the information we provide is transparent and comprehensive and will continue to do so,” the spokesperson said. “We disagree with the decision today regarding the transparency we provided to people in 2018 and the penalties are entirely disproportionate.”

The decision by the DPC began with an investigation in 2018 and is the second-largest fine levied under GDPR regulations. In July this year, Amazon was fined a record US$887 million for breaching the EU privacy laws.

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